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Defense Dpartment Briefing; ISIS Finance Minister Killed in US Raid; Major Police Raid in Brussels. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 25, 2016 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] ASH CARTER, DEFENSE SECRETARY: -- a number of the leaders of ISIL were in detention in Iraq back in former years, including the head of ISIL himself in Iraqi detention. So, it is important that these are people who have experienced. They are people who have shown dedication over the years and that's why it's so important to be eliminated.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: pause about releasing prisoners from GITMO?

CARTER: Well, as far as GITMO is concerned, that's the very reason why we need an alternative detention facility to GITMO, because it's not safe to release everybody or transfer it to the custody of another country everybody in GTMO. So that's the whole -- that's the very point of that. Nick (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ...we've just heard this week that there are actually 5,000 U.S. Troops on the ground in Iraq, why is the pentagon and senior military leadership reluctant to say that it's more than 3,800?

GENERAL JOSEPH DUNFORD, JOINT CHIEF CHAIRMAN: Yes, we're not reluctant, Jennifer (ph). What we track is the number that are in our force management level, that's 3,800. But this is nothing that's inconsistent with what's been going on for the last 15 years in terms of people that are and out, on temporary duty less than certain period of time, people that in direct support of the embassy, those have not been accounted towards the consistency in a way we've accounting people.

It's been going on for the last 15 years. At any given time, we have 3,800 directly in support of the mission. When units rotate, for example, we don't double count those numbers. So, if there's a unit of 200 it's being replaced by a unit of 200, and they both happened to be on the ground at the same time. We don't count that as 400.

We haven't in the past 15 years because that hasn't -- that hasn't counted against our force management level. So, the accounting of our people has been consistent. We're not denying that there's more people than 3,800. I think you've got the numbers from us.

But in terms of what we count in the mission and that's -- that's in accordance with the direction that would have been given, the 3,800 which was against (ph) the mission.

CARTER: Jim (ph)?


DUNFORD: No, I didn't say 5,000 was accurate. I said 3,800 was the force management level and the sum number above that on any given day as a result of people that support the embassy, people at the TDY, and people know the categories that don't count against the 3,800.

CARTER: Jim (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd like to follow up if I could on previous questions about the marines and that fire base. Unlike the previous U.S. Military Combat positions in fire support, this is an independent base. These are U.S. Military only and by all indications they are not just defensive but in this latest movement by Iraqi forces, they provided fire support for offensive operations against ISIS. So, why is this not the first footprint of a U.S. Combat ground operation there in Iraq?

DUNFORD: Jim (ph), the reason they're in a different base is simply a function of geometry. They're designed to support forces in an area called Markmore (ph). The artillery can't be co-located with the ground forces in Markmore (ph) and provide effective fire support.

So, this position was selected because of the geometry necessary to support that particular location. In which regard, they are providing support to Iraqi offensive capability, once again, I mean to me, there's no inconsistency between what this artillery unit did and what our aviation support is doing every single day. That don't draw distinction with it.

In other words, we've said that we're providing enabling support to include combined arms capability to Iraqi forces as they conduct the operations which is exactly what this artillery unit was doing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, we have all indications that this is a pretty permanent position right now that after a short period of time, U.S. Army personnel are going to replace the 26 new -- the marines there and it still has all indications that the U.S. Military is directly involved in the ground operations with the U.S....


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ...with the Iraqi...

DUNFORD: Maybe very quickly I just said that even since last week now as the Iraqi's have started to consolidate their positions, that situation on the ground has changed in terms of where the Iraqi's are and the relationship and the support -- the defensive support they're providing to our artillery unit is there. So, that's already changed, you know, through the course of the week. But in all honesty, I just cannot see this being inconsistent with everything that we've been doing over the last several months.

CARTER: And let me just add to that. And what we'll be doing in coming months, this -- we'll be doing in coming months, this is our approach to eliminating ISIL from Mosul. The Iraqi Security Forces are the ones who are carrying out the assault - the development of (ph) the assault but we're helping them. That's our -- been our approach and we'll continue to do that. Started in Ramadi, we'll continue going up to Mosul. Carla (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ...U.S. American Ground forces closer to the front lines as the battle toward Mosul...

DUNFORD: Jim (ph), once again, I probably just need to clarify. This position is behind what's known as the for Atlanta (ph) troops for the Peshmerga's courage. So, it's by no means out in front on its own.

[11:05:00] DUNFORD: And secondly what I would say about your question about the future is, we have a series of recommendations that we will be discussing with the President in the coming weeks to further enable our support for the Iraqi Security Forces.

So, again, the Secretary and I -- the Secretary and I both believe that there will be an increase to the U.S. Forces in Iraq in the coming weeks. But that decision hasn't been made. Nor, it -- you know, you alluded to decisions that were already made about army units replacing marine units all that is pre-decisional. There has been no decisions made about what's going to happen at this particular position in the future.

But it is going to be decided in the context of the broader issue that the Secretary will bring to the President again, focussed on what it is we need to do to maintain a minimum campaign and what specifically do we need to do to enable operations in Mosul.

CARTER: Carla (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Secretary, back on the Haji Iman, did you -- we're you saying that these ones in Syria and whether or not this was a U.S. Raid or was it was a drone strike or manned aircraft...

CARTER: I'm not going to say where and how it was done, Carla (ph). I'm simply not going to do that. It's -- but, it's -- the only thing I will say, it is consistent with our strategy there which is to put pressure on ISIL every single way we can from the leadership which we've discussed previously right down to supporting local forces on the ground, and with respect to operations in Iraq, I want to make clear and reiterate that everything we do is with the consultation and approval of the Iraqi government. Barbara (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And one more -- can I ask you the same about Abu Sara? You said he was targeted. Can we assume that was an air strike?

CARTER: Again, I'm not going to talk about how we -- how these guys went, you know, we have a number of ways we can do that, and I'm going to ask for your forbearance there. We're going to be disciplined about that. Barbara (ph)?


CARTER: I don't think -- I don't think he wants to add in, but if he does he can.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You said to congress that the Europeans can setup (ph) their intelligence sharing. I know that several people who were part of the Brussels attacks have been on our terror watch list and would not have been led into the United States. Are we increasing our sharing of our own intelligence? Did we share all that information with the Belgian?

DUNFORD: We -- I can speak to the military to military level. I was speaking broader when I spoke to congress, you know, intelligence agencies, military capabilities, law enforcement, and so forth.

From a military and military perspective, we've significantly increased our information intelligence sharing over the last few months and we have specific locations where we bring together a number of our coalition partners to do just that.

I mean, we think that over 100 countries have foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq. You've seen the numbers that exceed 30 - 35,000. I wouldn't -- I wouldn't put, you know a high degree of confidence that we have the exact numbers, but that gives you an order of magnitude of what the problems we're dealing with.

In my judgment, unless all the countries that are affected by the foreign fighters are cooperating at the law enforcement level, the intelligence community level and the military level, we are not going to be able to have the kind of site pictures I described it necessary to take effective actions against these individuals prior to the attacks like the ones we saw in Brussels this week.

CARTER: Carla (ph), just to reinforce what the Chairman just said in getting back to the fight in Syria and Iraq, I should also mention that a number of our European partners to include Belgium in the last month and a half after I had the ministerial -- Counter-ISIL ministerial in Brussels, Chairman had the judge (ph) conference, have increased their contributions and that the Belgians did that too.

That's different from the Homeland Security Law Enforcement and Intelligence side of things, but in the fight in Iraq and Syria, I want to note the Belgians have intensified their role in view of what happened in Brussels that's worth noting. Barbara (ph)?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Mr. Secretary, in light of Brussels and the attacks that has happened in Paris, as you look at the death of this person and other ISIS leaders in Syria can you tie some of this together for us? Do you see these plots in Europe, the cells in Europe being directed from ISIS leadership?

Do you, for example, do you think this man, Haji Iman, because you said he had some external affair embodiment augment, could he have been, was he involved in the Paris or Brussels cells? Are there operatives in Syria training them how to make bombs? What are the links you're seeing between ISIS and Syria and these cells emerging...

[11:10:00] CARTER: I can't confirm that this individual had anything to do with the Brussels' attacks specifically, but the general phenomenon you're describing is correct, and it's -- and the kinds of influence are various. They range all the way from fighters who have trained in and participated in ISIL operations in Iraq and Syria returning to their countries of origin, and that's where these many foreign fighters that the Chairman was talking about, are concerning to us.

Right through ones who are recruited and trained by such individuals but have not themselves been in Iraq and Syria or been in contact with ISIL forces directly right back through those who are simply inspired by, maybe get some sort of general instructions from ISIL, but are otherwise self-motivated and self-radicalized.

So, there's an entire spectrum here that our law enforcement and counterintelligence colleagues are dealing with.

STARR: ...can I just follow up real quickly? Of course, yes we see the link between the Paris and...

CARTER: Oh, I'm sorry one other thing I should say Barbara (ph), there's no question that this individual and other individuals we've eliminated have been part of the apparatus of ISIL to recruit and to motivate foreign fighters both to return from Iraq and Syria to countries in Europe and elsewhere and also simply by using the internet and other communications to do so. No questions these leaders had to do that.

STARR: So, people have got asylum (ph) and the leaders that you see in the Paris and Brussels cells, what's your assessment? Do you think this cell that has emerged in Europe, do you think, and several of them have gone to Syria by (ph) accounts, do you think they're being directed by ISIS leadership, or if anything a relevant question to ask is being inspired, you know, by them enough for them to have the expertise, equipment, technology, weapons to carry out this mission?

CARTER: It's a relevant question because we're -- if they're directed, we want to get at the people and that's what we're doing, and eliminate the people who are directing them. But even if it's just inspiration, it still takes you back to Iraq and Syria and the need to eliminate the sources of that inspiration.

The idea that there's can be an Islamic State based upon this ideology with the Capital in Raqqa, we're going to eliminate that image. And that's an important part of eliminating the inspiration even if it's not direction. But the answer to your question is there is both direction and there's inspiration with varying shades in between and we need to combat them all.


CARTER: Well, I can't speak for the Paris and Brussels cells, and that's a law enforcement matter. And my impression is it is a mixture of some who are inspired either by the internet or by a friend or associate or family member who himself did travel to Iraq and Syria.

I think you see that mix in what we already know of the cells involved in Paris and Brussels. But I'm not going to presume that I know everything that French and Belgian Law Enforcement know. That's their business, and they share it through law enforcement channels with us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One last question.

CARTER: One last question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Secretary, you mentioned, for -- it seems for months now that the progress against ISIL has been frustratingly slow, you mentioned the momentum is now clearly on your side. Are we at a point where there's a turning point? Are we seeing signs that ISIL was beginning to crack? Are they offering less resistance? Are they -- have we turned the corner in the fight against ISIS?

CARTER: Well, we're certainly gathering momentum and we're seeing that that momentum is having effect, and we're broadening both the weight and the nature of our attacks on ISIL. We've learned a great deal, and we continue to learn about who is who in ISIL so we can kill them. About how they get their finances, so we can dry that up.

And the forces that we're working with on the ground in both Iraq and Syria continue to gather strength because our strategic approach Jeff (ph) for the retaking of territory is to help local forces to do so, and you see both in Iraq, the Iraqi Security Forces first with Ramadi, now with other towns up the Euphrates Valley and with the envelopment of Mosul gathering that momentum with our help.

[11:15:00] CARTER: And you see it also in Syria with the taking of an example I gave at the top of my statement in the taking of the Town of Shadadi which is the key connection between Raqqa and Mosul, and the idea there is to bisect -- dissect the parent tumor of ISIL into its Syrian side and its Iraqi side.

So, in all of these ways, we're gathering momentum, broadening both the nature of the tools we're using and the pure weight we're bringing, and the same is true of the partners as well.


DUNFORD: ...joining us Jaime (ph) is that, you know, we talk about momentum. I think it's indisputable whether it would be the amount of ground that the -- that ISIL hold, the resources - the Dentin (ph) resources we've started to affect their command in control in a negative way.

I think we've begun to undermine the narrative, but there's a lot of work that remains to be done, and at the same time while ISIL has not been able to seize ground in the past several months, that hasn't precluded them from conducting terrorist attacks -- it has a precluded affecting operations in a more candid guerrilla operations than the conventional operations that we saw when they were seize in territories.

So, I think -- I think the momentum is in our favor. I think there's a lot of reasons for us to be optimistic about the next several months. But, by no means, would I say we're about to break the back of ISIL or that the fight is over. CARTER: And one final note I'll make if I may, Peter (ph), just to

reinforce what the Chairman said and answer your question, maybe one thing Brussels also reminds us essential as the military effort is, and confident as I am that we're going to be successful and that we're gathering momentum in the military campaign.

It is necessary, but there's a critical law enforcement intelligence and Homeland Security ingredient to this, and there are partners in this fight here and in other countries. And Brussels is a reminder that that fight is necessary as well, both in the European countries and any other country potentially affected by that including our own.

And with that, let me thank you all very much.

KATE BOLDUAN, CO-ANCHOR OF "AT THIS HOUR": All right, you're listening right there to very big news coming from the Pentagon. The Defense Secretary, Ash Carter; The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford announcing in the Pentagon briefing just moments ago that a top ISIS leader, the Finance Minister as the Secretary described it, also someone responsible for some external plots has been taken out.

A man that goes by a couple of names including Haji Iman -- a very, there's a picture of him right there -- a very big announcement coming from the Defense Secretary obviously important to him to take this moment to come out to the Pentagon briefing room and announce this formally confirm his death in the past couple of days we're hearing from sources in Syria.

Let me bring in right now to discuss the significance of this in the broader fight against ISIS especially in the aftermath of the Brussels attacks, let me bring in right now terrorist -- CNN Terrorist Analyst, Paul Cruickshank who is also the Editor-in-Chief of CTC Sentinel and CNN terrorism analyst former CIA official, Phillip Mudd along with Karen Greenberg, she's the Director of the Center of National Security at Fordham University of Law School.

Guys, thank you for sitting through this with me as we're really listening to the detail, I was very interested Paul in how the Secretary was going to describe this operation, not giving any detail, but described how significant this man was.

He said one of the goals of their fight against ISIS is to eliminate the ISIS cabinet, and this was a step towards doing that. How significant do you think this was?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: The Secretary of Defense is not common from the world's cameras unless there's a very significant breakthrough in the war on ISIS and this is exactly that Al-Qaduli was believed to be the number two of ISIS in charge of the groups' finances.

Also played a role as we've just heard from the Defense Secretary in the external operations of ISIS, so things like the Paris attacks and the Brussels attacks, he would have had perhaps some input in terms of launching -- a strategy of launching attacks in Europe. This is someone who has a longstanding Jihadi with the deputy to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the founder of ISIS when it called Al-Qaeda in Iraq that was fighting Americans during the Iraqi insurgency. He was the group's envoy to Osama Bin Laden. He was Bin Laden's favorite to takeover ISIS and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

He got the tough job. He was a former physics teacher who then became a Jihadi. He's from Northern Iraq but he was operating on the both the Syria and Iraq side of the border. He was killed in Syria.

[11:20:00] BOLDUAN: An important -- and important obviously as Paul perfectly points out -- if the Defense Secretary is coming out to announce that Phil, it's going to show the significance of it. But he did also make very clear, the Defense Secretary, when he also said striking leadership is necessary but it is far from sufficient because these guys will be replaced.

I want to get your take on the significance of it. But also the fact that he was not, the Defense Secretary, did not want to go into detail of how this operation took place. But Barbara Starr's sources tell her that this was not an air strike that took him out leaving open the possibility that this becomes at the hand of U.S. Special Operation -- U.S. Special Ops who are on the ground in Syria.

PHILLIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Yes, a couple of things you need to think about here, first that is really good intelligence. Locating a target like that overtime who has been in the organization for more than a decade as Paul points out and therefore has really good operational security, this isn't just a tactical success. It indicates that intelligence collection in Syria is ongoing.

But on your point about the significance of the takedown, a couple things you need to think about that are difficult from an American perspective because our optic on time is so short. The lifespan of a group like ISIS, I'm going to estimate, typically about 20 years. You've got to do a couple of things in those 20 years.

Number one, eliminate geography. ISIS was on a role in the summer of 2014. Geography in Iraq has been eliminated. If we get a cease fire in Syria, I would expect geography in Syria to be eliminated overtime but that's a long-term proposition.

Finally, in terms of leadership, this is not about one individual which is why the Secretary of Defense was so specific about being cautious. It's about individuals over the course of time, one after the other after the other. You can't look at this in isolation. You've got to take them out overtime.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Guys, stick with me. I want to get over to that right now to our Pentagon Correspondent, Barbara Starr. Barbara, this came from your reporting, all of this even before the Secretary Of Defense came out, and I thought your question to him was so important when you said if you -- if he says this man would have been involved with external plots as the Secretary said, does that mean he would have to at least have some knowledge of or some involvement in plots like Paris and plots like Brussels? STARR: Well, plots like them, I mean this is what the intelligence

community is looking at right now as you see these cells emerge in Europe. How do they trace back to sort of the headquarter elements of ISIS in Syria and Iraq? Who is inspiring these cells? Who is directing them?

The Secretary indicated, I think, what many U.S. Officials believe right now which is -- it's a mix. Some of these operatives in Europe are directly perhaps under some type of orders. Maybe not time, date, and place of where they should attack in Europe, but at least some direction, you know, go forth and launch these attacks in Europe.

Some of them inspired -- inspired off the internet, inspired by other family members who may have travelled to Syria, gotten training even on how to make explosive, and come back to Europe. So, this is a very long-term problem. I think the Secretary was emphasizing, this person Haji Iman is a very important get, but it's not the real answer.

There is no final answer on how you take out the full ISIS leadership. We've seen over the years every time that the U.S. struck an Al-Qaeda leader, someone else stepped into place. So, I think what you guys are talking about is exactly right. A lot of this is going to go on, you know, for a very long time. But for today...


STARR: ...perhaps the most interesting part is what the Secretary would not publicly talk about.


STARR: He wouldn't say it was Syria. He wouldn't say it was Special Ops. Let me just wrap-up by saying when the U.S. Military goes after a high-valued target like this. It is the Joint Special Operations Command, it is the Covert Units of Special Ops whether it's so-called S.E.A.L Team Six, Army Delta Force, other operational groups.

These are the guys who are out there keeping watch and looking all the time, assembling the intelligence chain to locate this high-value targets, keep their eyes on them, and be ready to move against them when they can. The Secretary didn't talk about any of that. I think what was not said in that press conference, the most interesting stuff. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Speaks volumes, absolutely. Barbara, thank you so much. Barbara, obviously in that Pentagon briefing and breaking the news even before that I think it goes without saying even though the Secretary says striking leadership is necessary, albeit not sufficient in the fight against a terror network like ISIS, I think taking the leadership out one by one, though is more welcome than not doing it at all. I think we can all agree on that from the standpoint today.

Guys, stick with us. We've got a lot more to discuss. The impact of this as well as the impact of what is going on right now in Brussels, Belgium as we learn -- as we learn this, a major operation in Belgium is underway right now. The manhunt continuing to intensify for the suspect still out there in the Brussels attacks.

An explosion was heard as well as gunshots, gunfire we're going to take you there live. This is CNN Special Breaking News Coverage of the attacks in Brussels.


[11:25:00] BOLDUAN: All right, we're going to -- back to our Breaking News Coverage out of Belgium, a major police raid and a new arrest in the Schaerbeek district of Brussels.

Senior International Correspondent, Fred Pleitgen, he's on the ground -- he's been on the ground as this raid has been going on. Fred, we're looking at some new video coming in. I don't think -- obviously, you can't see it but you can talk to us about this of the wounded, the man who was wounded and taken into custody.

What are you seeing? What are hearing?

FREDERICK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, it matches really Kate with what eyewitnesses told us as well as we were covering this raid -- we were obviously outside the police cordon as this raid was going on, but they said that there was a man who apparently was armed who was on a tram station which is where we are right now, and that he apparently was threatening.

He was then -- it was then the police was alerted to his presence there. They then shot him and the witnesses told us initially that he had been shot but had been shot in a way that he was not killed. They believed it was the leg or something and certainly the video does seem to corroborate what these people were saying.

It also was the case that there were bomb disposal squads that were called to the scene as this massive police operation was unfolding and it appears as though a bomb robot was also utilized during all of this -- we could see that the man appeared to some sort of backpack on him, and that bomb robot seemed to have checked out whether there was anything explosive inside that backpack.

What's going on now, at this massive police operation which really did involve a lot of police officers obviously a lot of special units like the bomb squad as well --